Certain types of dishes require thickening during the cooking process. Arrowroot or tapioca starch are starch thickeners used to add body to gravies and glazes. Although they are extremely similar, it is important that a cook understand what each is and recognize the differences between the two before using them.
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What They Are
Arrowroot starch is made from the dried rootstock of the arrowroot plant, which is then ground into a white powder. The name comes from the manner in which it was used by the South American Aruac Indians, who saw it as an antidote for poisonous arrows. Like arrowroot, tapioca also comes from the root of a plant, however, in this case it is the root of the Cassava plant. It is ground into powdered form and is often referred to as tapioca flour.
Arrowroot is suitable for use when making fruit desserts, baked goods, acidic liquids and frozen items. However, it is not recommended for items that contain milk as it has a tendency to turn slimy. Like arrowroot, tapioca starch is suitable for thickening fruits desserts, glazes, sauces and baked goods. Also, like arrowroot, it may be used in liquids that you plan to freeze after thickening. Use caution when adding tapioca starch to highly acidic foods, which may lessen its ability to thicken.
Taste and Appearance
Both arrowroot and tapioca impart a glossy sheen when thickening food. When using tapioca starch, the thickened sauce will have a transparent sheen. Items thickened using arrowroot often have a shiny, pearl-like translucence. This sheen is suitable for certain items that typically have a glossy appearance, such as glazes. However, for other items, such as meat sauces, this can give it an unusual appearance. Both ingredients tend to be bland and should not interfere with the taste of the finished dish.
How to Use It
Mix arrowroot and tapioca starch with cold water prior to adding it to your hot dish or sauce to avoid the forming of clumps. Arrowroot and tapioca starch do not require high heat to thicken. Tapioca works quickly and can be used as a last minute addition to food items that require further thickening.